This story by our neighbor Ken Fischer tells us about another old Lakewood character, one of the early residents who typified the strength and character of the old west. It connects to Ken’s experience in bringing his Iowa background to the wilds of Colorado, and as a woodsman in the pine and spruce-covered mountains. Following this story you can find more of Ken’s stories by clicking on his name at the end of the article.
Many years ago in the seventies, I was privileged to meet and become friends with a legitimate horseman. A man who demonstrated the spirit and essence of a true Coloradan.
Will Burt was a master printer by trade. He normally worked about sixty hours a week. He was also a mountaineer and a fair wood cutter. He would never boast of his exploits, but his irascible old friends would show reverence when recounting that Will crossed the continental divide on horseback more often than anyone they knew. He was a “top shelf” rider.
For as long as anyone could recall, he lived in a nineteen-twenties vintage cabin on Lookout Mountain with a postcard view of Denver. We met by chance one day in the forest near the Chief Hosa/Buffalo overlook. His saws appeared antique and metallic with paint worn off, but they ran like Pratt & Whitney WW2 bomber engines.
Will politely chuckled as he watched me load logs. He approached with a wry smile and said, “Try this, son.” He handed me an implement which could be readily confused for a hay hook or a Viking boarding tool. It was a “Peavy,” named for its inventor. It was used effectively since the 1800s to roll logs on land or water. It would take some practice and puncture wounds to be proficient with this dangerous hook.
Will used two Peavys at a time and stacked his logs vertically. I never became that proficient and continue to stack horizontally. Over many years I have rarely seen the Peavy used except by the Alaskans. Log loaders and ground men would ask about the tool, noting its benefit to one’s back and fingers.
Will had noted that I was somewhat low on fingers, but had a strong back and a weak enough mind for embarking on the lumberjack/firewood occupation. He was sage in his advice and I would never be without a Peavy again.
I miss those winter Sundays when the phone would ring about eight. It would be Will. He had a Forest Service permit and was itching to cut some timber. He gave away most of his wood, but kept a few “ricks” for winter when he would reminisce by a hearty fire. He had been married to a “handsome” woman, also a “solid” rider: His mate, who went on too soon.
I miss Will and men like him who were called the greatest generation, but not by one another. He countered his loneliness, teaming up with a fast-moving meetup lass. Soon he was selling his business and the cabin he loved, then moving to Westcliffe.
He rode until he could no longer and passed shortly thereafter.
When I hear the Merle Haggard song “Colorado” or Randy Travis sing ”He Walked on Water,” I smile and think of Will. I thank him for the Peavy, the friendship and the comradery.
Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business.